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March 17, 2020

Who's Your Tribe? - #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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©© GettyImages/Fernanda Reyes

"A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea."

Seth Godin, U.S. author and former dot com business executive

"Find your tribe!" The words were spray-painted across a huge banner at the entrance of the hotel. I was there only because we were attending a team-building event of the company my husband worked for. I didn't realize that we were going to be part of a tribe too.

A group of people dressed up in a weird variety of clothes welcomed us with loud cheers. A dude dressed in football shorts, a shirt and tie shouted, "Winning Innovators!"

"Join the Unbeatables!" roared a man dressed to resemble a 60s pop star.

Two women ran around punching the air with their boxing gloves while calling all "Smashers" to join their group.

Then came the Pirates (eye patches included), the Fearsomes (with 80s hair and wearing garish 80s fashion), the GotYas (who very annoyingly shouted "Got Ya" all the time for no apparent reason), and five more tribes.

Being in a Tribe Is Not for Introverts!

I groaned. My husband looked excited and was obviously enjoying the whole spectacle. So, guess I couldn't count on him to rescue me and flee from the chaos.

You see, I'm mostly an introvert, even when I'm trying to be extrovert. Other times I'm just a recluse. OK, maybe not quite – I have a bit of extrovert in me, too, but not much. Looking at the crowd in front of me, I realized I was going to use up a year's worth of extrovert in a single weekend!

After dutifully clapping and trying hard to look like I was having fun, I received the compulsory goodie bag (filled with the useless, colorful kind of stuff that ends up in the bottom drawer of your desk). It also contained the name of the tribe you'd belong to for that weekend.

Fortunately, they put couples together – otherwise I would have bolted. The problem is, pirates don't bolt – they sail away while shouting unsayable words at the enemy, brandishing daggers and swords. Seeing that I didn't have a ship, I couldn't sail away. And, because I don't use bad language, I couldn't shout unsayable things – which obviously meant that I was stuck.

A Proud Pirate... or Not?

We were now proud (my husband) and less proud (me) members of the Pirates tribe for a whole weekend.

The evening started off with the customary (boring) speeches by people who didn't choose public speaking as a career. It progressed to toasts, awards and jokes that became more unfunny as the people who told them became more lubricated.

When I declined a shot of tequila and told the rest of the tribe that I didn't drink much alcohol, the "captain" (my husband's senior manager) groaned. How on earth did he end up with a person who couldn't even be a sailor, let alone a pirate, in his tribe?

But there I was: a pirate who didn't swear, didn't drink, wasn't much of a swimmer, and refused to partake in violent acts such as intimidating the other tribes by pulling ugly faces.

Even though I felt like a "fish out of water," I knew that if I wanted to survive and have at least a half-decent weekend, I was going to have to work twice as hard as any of my fellow tribe members to fit in.

Let the Games Begin...

Saturday morning started with an obstacle race. The Pirates came second due to my (lack of) performance in the swimming pool. Even though we were 500 kilometers from the coast, I could visualize myself walking the ship's gangplank, blindfolded and with my arms tied behind my back, before being tossed to the sharks.

The second round of activities was more my kind of thing. It involved a general knowledge quiz, strategic thinking, solving puzzles, and playing memory games – the stuff I grew up on!

The Pirates won and, since I'd contributed a substantial number of points, my reputation was redeemed. I silently thanked my ancestors for my good memory, and promised them that in their honor, I'd drink something stronger than sparkling water that evening.

It was time for the last round of activities of the day – the "fun run." This comprised a series of "athletic" events that included a five-legged race, a somersault race, and something called a "diaper gala."

When Two (or More) Tribes Go to War

I quickly realized that much of it was down to concentration and focus. While all the other tribes were laughing and falling about, I was now in serious competition mode, and I promised the captain I'd have a shot of tequila that night... if we won.

Up to the final event, the Pirates were doing well. It was all down to me and the dreaded diaper gala.

Have you ever been required to swim in a "gala" with a towel wrapped over your costume like a diaper, held in place by the tiniest possible safety pin? I don't recommend it, but that's what I had to do. The rule was that if you lost your diaper, you had to start over.

The gods must have been looking down on me with favor (and lots of sympathy) that day. While I was by far the weakest swimmer, I won the race simply because I was able to hold it together. Literally. Every other swimmer lost their diaper, and most of them only completed the race on their third or fourth attempt.

Belonging to the Tribe

That evening I truly felt like a Pirate tribe member. I also drank two shots of unmentionably awful liquor, the unfunny jokes became funny, and I danced like an extrovert.

So, how did I transform from a skeptical "landlubber" to an enthusiastic and competitive Pirate? A few factors contributed:

  • I tried to find things that I had in common with the other tribe members on a personal level.
  • When a tribe member needed help during the contests, I was quick to reach out – and quick to ask for help as well.
  • I learned that I couldn't contribute to the success of the tribe if I tried to "go it alone."
  • I had to let go of my expectations about how the other tribe members should or shouldn't "be" and simply enjoy the diversity of the group in order to connect with them.

On Sunday morning each member of the winning tribe received a special bandanna as a keepsake. I never wear it, but every time I see it in my cupboard I remember exactly what it was like to be part of that tribe. And I smile.

Who's Your Tribe?

During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about how people find their tribe. Here are some of your most insightful responses:

Q1. What makes a group of people a tribe?

Strictly, tribe means the ethnic/cultural group that you're born into – a central part of people's identity throughout their lives. For our purposes, we're talking more loosely about the groups you associate yourself with, commit to, and gain support from.

@temekoruns Similar beliefs, principles, work ethic and goals allow groups to be considered a "tribe."

Q2. In your opinion, why do people want to belong to a tribe?

@Limha75 A good tribe know each other's strengths well. And weaknesses of course. People want to belong because it's heartening to know you're part of a network.

@JThiefels It feels good to be validated and to connect with and receive support from people who know you and think the way you do. We are social creatures, we crave that community!

Q3. How do cliques and tribes differ?

Tribes can behave like cliques if they become inward looking, and, at their worst, even create conflict with others on grounds of identity. This is sometimes referred to as tribalism – though this term has a specific meaning in some cultures, so avoid using it casually.

@realDocHecht Cliques can almost be a stereotypical "jocks," "nerds," "outsiders," etc. based on a status. Tribes can be a more diverse group.

Q4. Is a tribe and a network the same thing? Please explain.

@Midgie_MT I see the difference being that people in the tribe feel really connected to each other. People in a network share similar interests yet not the same sense of connection.

@J_Stephens_CPA My network is much wider than my tribe – my network includes those in other departments, customers, vendors, and advisors – at work. My tribe at work is very small as our focus and core personal values differ.

Q5. How are tribes beneficial in the workplace? What value do they bring?

Tribes provide safety, belonging and mattering as described by Christine Comaford in her book "Power Your Tribe."

@Yolande_MT Tribes provide a sense of belonging. When people belong, they feel happier and emotionally safer – and they're easier to work with and happier at work too.

@ChayneDaisy They have your back; they support; there's trust which means you can speak freely; there's an ease in the conversation.

Q6. In what ways could tribes at work hurt an organization?

@MicheleDD_MT Tribes can create an us vs. them environment – sales vs. marketing.

@JKatzaman Sub-groups within the broader workforce can hurt overall morale and productivity when their agendas usurp that of the organization.

Q7. Do you have a tribe at work? If not, why not? If yes, how did you find them?

@ZalkaB At work, no, never. There was always too much baggage and hidden agenda, that I never really felt able to put my guard down or be afraid that somebody would misuse the information we shared. But in my career, yes I have. I have found my virtual tribe.

Q8. How exclusive is your tribe? Is it an echo chamber?

Just like a tribe in the traditional sense of the word, a workplace tribe should consist of people with varied personalities, opinions and ideas – otherwise it might very well become an echo chamber.

@Midgie_MT I would say our tribe is very open to "new people" joining us, and we do have contact/connections with local people. It just seems like we are more connected with each other.

Q9. Which values are important to your tribe?

@temekoruns The most important values are respect, understanding, commitment, and not being judgmental when others' opinions differ.

@Limha75 Number 1, front and centre is no blame. If an error is made, "we" made it.

Q10. How can you add value to your tribe?

@Yolande_MT You can add value to your tribe by acting with the greater good of the tribe in mind. Be the best for the tribe, rather than striving to be the best in the tribe.

@MicheleDD_MT Information, knowledge and skill sharing to strengthen the whole tribe. A value – learn and share what you know.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.

Coming Up

Being part of a tribe gives us a sense of belonging. But what do you do if you suddenly find yourself alone at home instead of being at work? One person might welcome being alone while another person might feel anxious at the mere thought of it.

The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is "Isolated and Anxious." So in our Twitter poll this week we want to know what's most likely to make you feel isolated. You can see the options and cast your vote here.


Meanwhile, here are some resources relating to the topic that we discussed this time:

How to Manage When Values Clash


Yukl and Tracey's Influencers

Making the Most of Employee Resource Groups

Team Charters

Improving Group Dynamics

Building Trust Inside Your Team

Avoiding Unconscious Bias at Work

Managing Mutual Acceptance in Your Team

Cultural Intelligence

The Johari Window

Establishing Credibility

What Are Your Values?

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